Looking ahead to conference season

23 March, 2023


Here we look ahead to the start of conference season 2023, covering ways in which DevRel teams can make the most out of the events they attend and also taking into account the effect of the economic downturn on the tech industry.

The panel tackles the issues of reduced budgets, how to make an events strategy sustainable, self-care at events, and more.

Thank you to Common Room for sponsoring this episode!

Watch the YouTube video.

Show notes

Sections

  1. Budgets are getting cut. How does that impact DevRel events strategy? (1:36)
  2. Event attendance is lower that in previous years. (9:15)
  3. Are events the right strategy? (10:11)
  4. Is it best to mix online and in-person events across the year? (15:15)
  5. Showing value (17:21)
  6. Keeping content relevant (23:33)
  7. Self-care at events (38:23)
  8. “Remember why you’re there and still get your work done.” (43:33)

Hosts

Kevin Lewis: Based in Berlin, Kevin is Developer Relations Lead at Directus. He is also the founder of the You Got This!, a learning hub focused on core skills needed for a happy and healthy work life. An experienced developer and educator with a history of creating engaging technical content in a range of formats, he helps developers to be successful in understanding complex concepts and applying them to projects, regardless of their professional experience.

Matthew Revell: Matthew runs the developer relations consultancy Hoopy, as well as DeveloperRelations.com, and the DevRelCon event series. He works with companies to help them build and execute developer relations strategies. Matthew also creates content and research to help DevRel professionals become more effective. With his team at Hoopy, he works with clients around the world to advise them on developer relations, developer marketing, and developer community.

Guests

Floor Drees: Floor is Staff Community Program Manager at Aiven and Microsoft MVP for Developer Technologies. Based in the Netherlands, Floor has worked on global-scale projects and events such as KubeCon + CloudNativeCon, and managed several projects around inclusive communication strategies and accessibility. She is a serial tech event organiser and also holds many meetups. Floor has helped external communities adopt and enforce a Code of Conduct, and recruit a diverse line-up, and has also supported communities going online. 

Mark Hazell: Mark is the organiser of the annual Devoxx UK developer community conference, and co founder of Voxxed. Voxxed is a knowledge sharing platform with the same DNA as the Devoxx conferences and a productive relation with Parleys.com. Focusing on Java, JVM methodology, cloud, future, mobile, and everything in between. 

Erin Mikail Staples: Erin is a senior developer community advocate at Label Studio and also a technical adjunct professor at NYU. and stand-up comedian.

Useful links

Show sponsor: Common Room!

Matthew Revell:

DeveloperRelations.com

DevRelCon London 2023

Kevin Lewis:

Kevin’s website

Directus

You Got This

Mark Hazell:

Devoxx Links

Voxxed Days

Erin Mikail Staples:

Erin’s Website

Erin on YouTube

Label Studio

Label Studio Integrations

DevRel(ish)

Floor Drees:

Floor on Mastodon

Floor onLinkedIn

DevOps Days Events

Transcript

Kevin: Hello everyone, and welcome to the DevRel Roundtable. My name is Kevin Lewis. I run developer relations at Directus, and today my co-conspirator is…

Matthew: Hello. Yeah, I’m Matthew Revell and I do things to do with DevRel at Hoopy, and I’m really pleased to have you joining me today, Kevin, because it’s I think the first time we’ve co-hosted something like this together.

Kevin: And quite possibly the last!

Matthew: Let’s see how it goes. Yeah! So the topic today is, I mean, it’s March, right? And in a normal year before the pandemic, March is ‘oh, we’re about to start doing conferences’ for a few months before the summer dies down. And then, back into the Fall/Autumn, it’s conferences again. And I thought it’d be good to speak to people who run conferences, such as yourself, and people who do participation in conferences on behalf of DevRel teams, again, such as yourself, and see if people have tips and that kind of thing. So, how can we make the most out of conference season for DevRel people? I think that’s my aim here. But also what’s different now, and I don’t want to go into the pandemic too much, because I feel like we’ve already talked a lot about it.

Kevin: Yeah, we’re, we’re in a very interesting time. There is a pandemic, which is still ongoing, but we are kind of seeing the other side of that now. Events are returning in person. The macro economic climate means a lot of teams are losing a bunch of budget or needing to be very, very pointed about how they spend it. And so on all sides of this equation, running events, applying to events, attending, sponsoring events, there’s a bunch more scrutiny and consideration that needs to go into it.

Matthew: And thank you very much to Common Room for sponsoring this episode. You can go to common room.io if you want to learn more about their platform for helping you to understand and measure your community.

Kevin: We’ve got some excellent guests today. Shall we introduce them?

Matthew: Floor Drees, how are you?

Floor: Hi, I’m good. Yeah, and I love the comment about events coming up because I already had five events just this year, so I’m already fully in conference season. So yeah, my name is Floor. I’m the staff community program manager. I just recently changed from Staff Developer Advocate, so that’s why I have some trouble with pronouncing the new title. I’ve been doing DevRel at various companies and I’m one of the organisers, or one of the core organisers, of DevOps days. I organise the DevOps days, Amsterdam and conferences. among many other things, but that’s the one I’m going to mention.

Matthew: We also have Mark Hazell. Mark, you run conferences, you’ve founded conferences. So tell us a bit about yourself, Mark.

Mark: My name’s Mark Hazell. I run Devoxx in the UK and also am co-founder of Voxxed Days conference series.

Matthew: And we also have Erin Mikail Staples joining us all the way from New York.

Erin: I’m Erin. I’m currently a senior developer community advocate at Label Studio, so, really exciting these days, especially with a lot of the recent innovations in machine learning and AI. Outside of that, I am a technical adjunct professor at NYU, teaching tech skills to non-technical folks and a comedian. So, I actually do host an open mic series called ‘Laugh, Dammit!!!’ in New York City, and I run the podcast ‘DevRel(ish)’ with Brian Rinaldi. So if you’re interested in more DevRel-ishy things, come hang out with us.

Matthew: Kevin and I touched on this in the introduction. Things are unusual right now. So how does the conference season look in 2023? And I want to ask you, Mark, if you don’t mind first, because you’ve got your big event in London coming up in May. So from your perspective, how are things in 2023 as a conference organiser?

Mark: It’s a tough question. I think we need to look at it from two perspectives. One pre-pandemic and one post. From a post pandemic perspective, I feel like we’re coming right the way back to where we were beforehand. Certainly looking at Devoxx UK, we’re expecting levels of attendance to be back to pre- pandemic. But it’s taken time and it’s been really hard to get back to that space. I know in Europe it feels like we’re beyond the real challenges that we had, whereas I know many of our colleagues in the US are still really struggling to get in-person audiences back to those levels. So certainly from my perspective, I feel really positive. I think the big difference now is whilst we are looking at attendee levels being back to where they were, we’ve got this crisis financially happening.

As an organiser that makes things like sponsorship pretty difficult. What we’re seeing is, I think it’s a good opportunity for a lot of younger, smaller companies to come through and fill some of the space that some of the bigger companies previously were signing up to and filling up beforehand. That’s certainly a trend that we are seeing. A lot of companies coming in, they’re young, they’re vibrant, they’re really energetic, they’re taking the kind of lower levels of sponsorship and they’re trying to be really quite creative about what they’re going to go out there and talk to people about. Whereas some of those household names that you’d expect to have been there are fighting with budgets. I guess if they’re laying a load of folks off, they can’t necessarily turn around and go ‘okay, well look, we’re also spending a load of money on this’. It’s not good optics. So it’s an interesting time of year, but like Floor, I’m three months into my conferences already and multiple events in. So it’s nice to be talking about coming up to conference season, but it’s already well underway for many people.

Kevin: Do you mind if I follow up with a question? As a fellow event organiser, I have experienced exactly the same – attendance numbers ticking back up to where they were, cash is drying up also. Are you finding yourself as an event organiser, needing to adapt to the fact that funds are becoming a little more difficult to come across? Are you being a bit more savvy? Or are you still running things as expected and are those smaller companies actually filling your coffers to the point where they need to be in order to deliver the exact same event you were before?

Mark: Well, I think if you work in community driven events and you are trying to keep your price point low for attendees, and yet you’re still trying to deliver as much value to an attendee audience, you’ve got to be sitting there worrying about rising costs. Thankfully, I’ve got a great relationship with the venue that we work with in the UK. I’ll talk purely from a Devoxx UK perspective for a minute. They’re brilliant. We sat down, we hashed out this year’s cost base really early. And so am I worried too much? For 2024, I’m really worried, but for 2023, not so much, just because we’ve got most of the cost base sorted really early with our suppliers. But we are seeing the cost of everything go up. And then we’ve got some interesting challenges that come along as well. And it’ll be interesting to talk to some of you folks who are doing DevRel jobs to understand how you are being impacted.

Certainly we’re seeing some DevRel advocates that aren’t able to get out there to speaker conferences because their budget’s been completely cut. And that’s got to make it really hard for you folks to get out there and do the basis of your job. Thankfully, we’ve got a really robust event that people want to come to every year. Even then, I feel kind of bad when you see some DevRel advocates saying: ‘Well, look, company’s not paying for me, but I’m just going to pick the tab up myself this year’. So throwing that back to you, what are you finding as DevRel folks?

Erin: We actually did have a very serious conversation about our planning this year when it comes to events and went back and forth about which events make sense for us. And so, for context, Label Studio is an open source data labeling platform. And a couple of things that are interesting about this space is that our user base is very broad. We have enterprise users, we have open source users, and we have a very large academic audience. And so those are three very different audiences some days, in very different industries. So finding an event that fits one group is kind of hard. Budgets are tighter than ever, so it’s making sure that we’re mindful of that. But also, we did have part of our conference schedule tracked. We’re a two person community team. One’s on the west coast and one’s on the east coast of the United States.

So it’s kind of like ‘if it’s on the west coast, you’re going, if it’s on the east coast, you’re going’, and then if it’s a speaking gig, whoever got the speaking gig is going. I will be travelling to Berlin for PIE Data Berlin later on. Some of the events that we did attend already this year, it was like: ‘how do we measure if it was worth our time?’ We’re finding that the attendance has even been lower than years past. The meetups involve work too. As someone who’s organised events, you don’t want to blame the organisers, but how do we get people to contribute good value and good energy to it and is this the best strategy still? Asking the question, are events the right strategy? When we do attend an event, how much work is the satellite lifting of the events? We’re going to PI Data and then Python this year and planning to do meetups around that, but do I really need a plan to do a meetup at the event, which means budget, time and energy. Or is it more valuable to just do a meetup that we know our audience is already going to attend outside of that conference?

Kevin: Everything’s time and money, though. It’s not just sponsorship. A load of events have fixed costs, whether I’m going to a small meetup in a nearby city, or you are travelling far away. There’s time implications. Your time has a cost attributed to it. Whether you’re speaking or sponsoring, there is going to be travel and expenses to some degree, unless it’s extremely local. And these all need to be factored in too, because they stack really quick. Sponsoring an event is sponsoring and then all the other costs almost are fixed regardless of your engagement type. Floor, did you have anything to add?

Floor: Yeah, so I think from an event organiser’s perspective, when we look at our CFP and, for most of the events, we’ll go through some sort of anonymous round first and then look at the short list that you come up with. And then whenever you see a developer advocate title, you sort of assume that their company will pay for their travel if you’re doing a community event and it’s sort of on the topic for their business. But now we’re noticing, and I’m not just speaking for DevOps space, but also for other events, that when you start confirming some of those speakers, they need to pull out anyway because they don’t have their travel budget or they need to be more diligent with what events they can actually commit to.

I also think that maybe it’s a little bit like a downturn disguised as we’re also being really diligent about sustainability. So we’re trying to find some events that are more local and see if we can do train travel. Of course, that takes a little bit more time, so that’s something that needs to be factored in. So from a DevRel team perspective, we’re looking more at JAR packing, making sure that if you’re going to an event anyway then maybe there can also be a customer meeting and a meetup. There could also be like all these other things, prioritising of course that you go to the full event anyway. In that case, I’m totally onboard. Whenever we can make it a bit more sustainable than we have been, because we have been travelling all the time everywhere, I think that’s a good thing. So it’s not terrible that we need to refocus a little bit. It’s unfortunate that when we can’t participate in events anymore that we would’ve otherwise because there are all of these restrictions.

Mark: So if you can’t participate in events the way that you were, how are you replacing that? Because I’m a big advocate of events, otherwise I wouldn’t do what I do. I think if the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that we all massively missed events, not just because they’re great fun, but that human contact is one of the best ways to to reach your goals. It’s not just about your internal goals, but how do you get that kind of validation and feedback from folks if you are not having the conversations face-to-face? Because I just find that people don’t speak the same in online channels.

Floor: Yeah. So maybe not replace, but do a bit of both and participate in the events that are hybrid or online and do a good job at that and not just turn on a live stream and have a little live chat that is not monitored at all, which happens way too often still, unfortunately. I actually did a whole study around how DevOps days chapters or cities’ teams responded to the pandemic globally, and whether or not they hosted online events or hybrid events, and if they continue to do sort of a hybrid model, when they could go back in person. Obviously the answer is it depends, because cities and teams respond differently and value different things. Some found that they actually got a bigger audience now in person too because people were able to find out about these events and they would’ve otherwise not attended or maybe wanted to have that first experience with a DevOps days event, or like there’s all kinds of reasons why people would go to an online event and couldn’t make it to an in-person event.

So, I don’t know. I think, for yourself as a DevRel professional, having a schedule of both in-person events and some online events, is sort of where it’s at.

Erin: Floor, bouncing off your idea, I think that’s a really great point to mention. We really thought about our ecosystem. One of the benefits is that we’re a tool that can integrate with a lot of different partners. We’re all in it together. We’re all doing the thing. When we succeed, our friends succeed. We’re kind of taking that mindset with everything moving forward. So we launched an integrations directory as kind of a base early on in this year with the intention to continue to expand on it and create. This is a way to continue to connect. So whether that’s through tutorials, live streams, meetups, but it allows us kind of this connective tissue for us to integrate with any other tool that people might be using in our ecosystem, which expands us and gives us pretty concrete ways to collaborate with groups of people, whether in-person or not. But it allows us to focus the conversation around a specific workflow, a way of doing, much like you’d be doing at a conference, but gives us that same talk and provides actionable execution-type result.

Kevin: There is also a slightly more cynical way of looking at this perhaps, which is that you spend all this money to go to an event, all of the combined cost – sponsorship, t and e swag, anything else, time, anything else that’s attributed to it. And ultimately it’s a cost per head exercise. Not only is it a cost per head exercise, it’s a cost per head exercise versus the ability to generate revenue off of those conversations that you have. It’s always a relatively small number of people for the cost versus other forms of perhaps more traditional marketing exercises. I think one of the big challenges we have as developer relations practitioners is perhaps in the past where money was more free flowing, a little less attention was paid to the oversight as to the money spent versus the clear line to the revenue, perhaps now it’s a lot more clear. For that same money you can do a lot more traditional marketing that has very easily measured results. So what you may do instead of events is more traditional marketing exercises. There’s that human touch which isn’t quite the same, but you can still do human touch activities without the swag, without the t and e, the travel and expense costs, and sponsorships generally being a bit lower. So maybe I’m the cynic here, but that’s also worth consideration.

Matthew: I’d want to drill down though into that point you touched on. I think there is a qualitative difference – and I’m not making a value judgement, I just think it’s different. The kind of contact that you have with someone at an event compared to whether they saw your ad in a newsletter that they follow. I’m not saying you’re suggesting there isn’t, but does anybody in this group have a formula that they use to judge whether an activity is worth the cost?

Floor: Actually, maybe. We do have a database of all of the events that we went to in previous years, and so we’ll look at those because we do a little feedback form which will be upgraded to an event, like an actual trip report, sometime soon, I hope. The form doesn’t really capture everything. You should fill it in right after an event, but most of the stuff actually only materialises after a couple of days, weeks, months. So then you would need to go back to the Freeport form, and that doesn’t really work. But we definitely do look at the events that we’ve been at when we’re looking at what events we want to consider for next year. So there’s a lot of content on the form so that you can say: ‘Oh, well these are the questions that were asked, these were the kind of conversations and these were some of the outcomes’.

For instance, at a recent event I had a conversation with someone who was sponsoring KubeCon. We didn’t necessarily have a budget to go to it, but they have invited us to speak at their little booth thing. And then certainly somehow it makes sense to go there, especially when you’re based in the countries as I am, which is fantastic. So there needs to be a lot of storytelling. It’s not necessarily like: ‘Oh, this many people showed up for my talk’. For all of these forms, you also need to count heads that are in the room really quickly before you start your talk. But I mean those impact stories that explain why it was useful for you to go to the event. But yeah, I do find myself needing to explain why we should go to an event, whereas before it was much easier. My paper got accepted or my talk got accepted, so obviously I’m going.

Mark: This kind of brings us down to the whole qualitative versus quantitative argument, and that’s something that’s been a hundred per cent difficult to quantify within developer relations, since the term developer relations was created. And Floor, what you said about having to go back and fill forms in three months later, realistically, do you do that? Do you track that pipeline through and how long do you keep tracking it for? Ultimately you’re going to see results from an event and you’re going to look at them. We’re too focused on numbers I think as an industry anyway, but the whole marketing industry’s been focused on numbers forever. You have to segment the activities out. And so a replacement like for like is really difficult to qualify here because I think that I’m a big advocate of small events.

Devoxx UK, we’re a mid-size event, we’re like 1200. We go out to Devoxx Belgium and it’s like three and a half thousand. But the V Day series, when one of those starts up it might be 300 people. As it grows and gets bigger, it might grow up to 5, 7, 800 people. And you see a real difference as you go through. And I personally love going to all different types of events, but some of the best experiences I have are when I’m at a 3, 400 person event. I can relate to those people and they can relate to me much better, and I’m more likely to see positive results out of it. I’m more likely to grab a crowd of people at the end of a talk and be able to talk to them.

Erin: One thing that I’ve learned, especially over the last year or two, has been the prioritisation of events just can’t be an event anymore. And it’s same as the content article can’t just be an article. The article has to be the article and how are you promoting the article and who’s reading the article? And then, how do you share the article and then, what collaborations come on top of the article? Or when you do an event, it’s who are you meeting at the event? Okay, how are you planning what collaborations came because of that event? And I’ve shown that that has been part of my event reporting process more and more recently. Even with events like this, I’ll be like: ‘Okay, here’s what I did, here’s the things that I’m doing, here’s the people that I’m meeting, here’s the discussions that this facilitated, which eventually led to this’, and showing that pipeline, almost in a weird little convoluted roadmap way. Even though it’s not a number or data set, it does make sense and helps highlight the importance of even those smaller interactions.

Mark: I think as an organiser, we’re trying to cover both sides of this this year. So we’ve got 1200 coming to the event, that’s pretty big. We’ve split into six rooms through the course of three days. So that’s amazing, but I’m always kind of conscious of two things. One, that doesn’t do the small group proposition that we are really looking for. And secondly, and this is allied with that, is we open a call for papers six months prior to the event. It closes like four and a half months prior to the event. So much changes so quickly that how do you keep your content relevant? Although it’s relevant, there’s still new shiny coming along or there’s new thinking coming along and we’ve chosen our content four months beforehand. So this year we’re playing with having an non-conference on site as well.

Matthew: I think everyone here either does or has organised conferences so we can all chip in, but as a conference organiser, what do you look for from contributions, from submissions from DevRel people? Because Floor mentioned earlier that submissions from DevRel people come with certain caveats. I’ve seen plenty of people put on Twitter: ‘Ah, if there’s a developer advocate giving a talk, I’m out of there. I’m not listening to that’. So what advice would you give to developer relations people who are submitting talks?

Mark: So firstly, I think that the attendee who looks at a talk title and a speaker and says: ‘Oh my God, that’s a DevRel advocate I’m out of here’ is very shortsighted. That’s the first thing I would say. We got 930 proposals this year in our CFP. That’s a lot and there’s some that are really great and there are some that are not so good. What are we looking for? I think from developer advocates what we’re really looking for is honesty, that you don’t want a product pitch to come across. Well, actually if there’s a product pitch, it’s pretty easy to sniff out in a talk submission and it’s pretty easy therefore to just press the ‘respectfully decline’ button.

But yeah, real honesty and to think: ‘Okay, when I’m putting a talk submission together, I want people to come at it from the perspective that these are the problems that users have brought to me and these are the solutions therefore that people need to understand’. That’s probably my number one request – be solutions focused, don’t be product focused. And if you can bring real world examples – I know it’s not always possible because of confidentiality with clients etc – but any real world examples, that stuff is gold when it comes to developers sitting in the audience saying: ‘This is what I want to listen to’. So, a big healthy dose of honesty and ultimately make sure that you’re talking about the right thing to the right audience. Oh, and don’t copy paste, because different conferences have different audiences.

Matthew: That’s why we stopped using a paper submissions platform for DevRelCon because it was just too easy for people to go click, click and then they submit their conference talk to ten different conferences in ten minutes without really having to worry about whether it was appropriate or not.

Floor: Yeah, literally why for DevOps days we’ve switched to pre-talks because it’s not possible to just shoot to a lot of different conferences because we got that all the time. I love submissions like ‘how to do typescript for a DevOps days conference’. Like, but why though?

Erin: I’m going to approach this from two different lenses – one submitting for a conference, and then one having reviewed submissions. So from both lenses here, first off, I think the biggest thing that is a pet peeve as someone who has been very fortunate in the last year or so to have been asked more and more to join and speak, which is great. I think if you’re a conference organiser, really think about what is this bringing to me? And how is this person contributing to my audience, and is there actually interest here? Also take the diversity card. I was reached out to this month for the sole fact that I was a female. They didn’t look at my website history, job history at all. They were like: ‘What do you wanna talk about? We just were really excited because you seem to have a presence and you are a woman’. And I was like: ‘Okay, cool. I’m not interested. Like I’m out’. You can do 30 seconds of homework to determine if this is a good fit or not.

I’ve started to be a little more diligent in that homework as a speaker there. And I think if you’re organising, think about diversity. How are you keeping your panels diverse? How are you thinking about including things? How are you doing things like including pronouns or preferred languages? DevRelCon, you guys had the Latin America version this year, which is really exciting to see and I’m starting to really see a lot more diversity in that, which is super exciting. The other thing as an organiser is, again, don’t copy paste talks. On top of that also it’s really frustrating when you get someone and they don’t appear interested in your event and you’ve worked really hard and they’ve made a big deal about your event, but then they don’t really come across as interested.

It’s a two-way street. We’re all in this industry together, whether you’re an organiser or participant, and it takes 30 seconds to retweet something or to share it on LinkedIn. Just do it. As someone who’s pitching, I think the biggest thing is, we always get a lot of pressure as DevRel advocates or community folks to be very brand or product oriented. I’ll be transparent. There’s no way my boss would let me to go to a conference and be like: ‘Erin, let’s go talk about your comedy career for ten minutes at a developer conference’. But, how can I think about how it’s related to my day job or tied in? Be yourself and be authentic. And then my last kind of personal one is disclose your bias.

Everybody has bias, disclose it. That may include who’s writing the cheque, who paid for you to be there, who else you’re paid for if you do freelance work on the side. If you have prior affiliations with any company brand or organisation mentioned in your talk, shout it out, disclose that. And that’s just good ethical practices. I have that both on my website and I try to just close it in my talks. ‘I know I’m here today paid for by this, but this is also possible within other tools’.

Kevin: If I may, as an event organiser, one of the things that I really want to see is that the talk is highly relevant to the audience I am gathering. You really need to know who the audience is. In the same way that as developer advocates attending, speaking out and sponsoring events, we have a really high degree of scrutiny at the moment as to how money is being spent and whether we should participate, exactly the same is happening to people attending. Whether that’s because they have limited time, deciding which events they’re able to spend their budget on to go to events. If you are trying to deliver a talk and it isn’t going to be highly relevant to that audience, I’m not going to to do it because it devalues the overall event in the eyes of the attendee, then I get less attendees.

So just the same way we have that scrutiny as people delivering talks at events, sponsoring them, attending them, spending any amount of resource on them, we have to do the same as people submitting talks as well. I think copying and pasting talks is fine, as long as it’s the right audience for those talks. I think that was alluded to, but just to be more explicit there. As long as it’s relevant to the audience, it doesn’t matter. If anything, that is a very efficient way to spend your time. If you write a talk highly specialised for the audience that is relevant to your org and then you go and seek out specifically that audience. The mixed audience thing is challenging I think in this age of DevRel, because ultimately it might be fine, as Mark said earlier, to have a smaller audience, but it has to be a smaller audience of a buying persona. Otherwise it’s just a smaller audience of people who don’t drive revenue and don’t help you justify your job.

Mark: I don’t know about you folks, but I see a lot of talks that are given for kind of six to eight months by a person. Then they’ll go: ‘Right, okay, that talk’s done. I’ll go back to the drawing board and write the next one’. If that talk doesn’t change over those six to eight months, then actually as an organiser, because most events are recorded and there’s such availability on YouTube for free now, then I want to know that it’s going to be a bit different six months after the last time I saw it.

Matthew: As a sponsor, and I guess we’ve all done booth duty here, as someone who’s there in this sort of liminal space of you’re on sale for the company, but you’re also trying to retain your own authenticity and credibility. For people who are coming into this for the first time, because there’s lots of people who come into developer relations and this might be their first in-person conference season, where a marketing or a sales colleague says: ‘Hey, can you do booth duty?’ What are the ways that people can retain some sense that they are doing the right thing, but as a developer relations person and to the community, while also representing their brand?

Erin: I have a lot of strong thoughts on this one. First off, just again, disclose your bias, be honest about it, but also don’t be afraid to say what you think is cool. And I think so many, in this world of tech hypy trends, leave our personality at the door sometimes because we’re scared to admit that we don’t like something or don’t know something or that something is not interesting, but that’s super cool. Since when did we have this attitude that we’re too cool for things? I want you people to be into things. Share that excitement. Share your own excitement for what you do. It doesn’t have to be the rehearsed sales pitch. I don’t think any salesperson actually first off has ever given me a sales pitch because they know I won’t follow it. I’m probably a little stubborn like that. But at that point, you can be yourself and you can share why you’re excited about something, but you can also be authentic in the other things that you’re excited about.

Floor: Yeah, I also love your comment before about celebrating conferences and the work that they do, because organisers do a lot of work. Don’t just sort of show up for either your talk or your booth duty and do this schpiel, but actually be excited about things and be courageous about being excited about things. I think that’s spot on. That way you can definitely be authentic if your authentic self is an excited person. So, for me, that’s totally goes. When I do booth duty, I mostly try and ask people a lot of questions because I’m absolutely curious why they’re at an event, what they’re looking forward to, what they’re hoping to get from the event. Maybe if they stop by our booth, if they already know the company, just ask a lot of questions. I want to get feedback from people. I want to figure out where we are in our sort of awareness journey. Also I’m just authentically interested in what brings people to an event.

Kevin: I just want to riff off of what Floor just said. Ultimately, our job is to drive revenue, might be now, might be later. You need to understand who the person coming to you is and what their motivation for coming to you is before you even start. It’s really easy to just go with the schpiel. I got the 22nd version, I reel it off every single time. But if I know why you are here, I understand whether that’s appropriate, whether I should change it up and talk to you differently because you are coming with a different set of experiences or expectations. Or if you’re just not interested, that’s cool, I can still spend time with you as a fellow developer talking about whatever it is you find interesting, or I find interesting, or what we collectively find interesting.

But then I know that you are not going to meet the ultimate goal of why I’m at the event. And that’s cool. There is also the need in getting the most out of events to weigh all of these conversations correctly. You have a big group of people in front of you, you’re not sure who you are going to spend ten minutes with as opposed to two minutes with. Understand what they’re there for. However crude it may sound, you need to invest more time into those conversations and relationships that turn into some kind of impact for the business, for us to all have our jobs in 6, 12, 18 months time.

Mark: I think use your time wisely as well. I mean, if you’re on booth duty, realistically you’re talking about maybe breakfast, some kind of welcome period, two coffee breaks and a lunch. So that’s about two and a half hours of your day at a conference. The rest of the time, the exhibition area is probably really quiet. Slip away, go to a talk – this is my personal thing anyway – slip away, go to a talk that I’m actually interested in and have a conversation with the people sitting next to you about that talk and the content that’s going on there. If it relates back to what you do on a day-to-day basis and your company and you can carry that conversation on back at the booth, then encourage them to come by and see, but softly, softly. That’s actually much more valuable as a conversation than sitting on the booth during dead periods where there’s nothing going on and everybody else is in a conference session.

Erin: I was just going to reiterate, take care of yourself. I know that the post-conference plague is real. I am neurodiverse. I find myself getting very overstimulated if I don’t have an hour or two at the end of the day by myself for an hour. I use a lunch break to be by myself, no colleagues, no coworkers. No, get away from me and let me sit in my own circle in my quiet space. I’m actually not as extroverted as people think. So you have to take care of yourself and that comes first because you won’t make it through the conference or the days after without it.

Mark: That’s such brilliant advice. I applaud you for saying it. It’s such brilliant advice and everybody should do so whether they’re doing this from a DevRel perspective, an organiser perspective or just an attendee. Look after yourself and take time for you. I quite often do this even whilst running a conference. I’ll take the little walkie talkie so that I’m in contact, but actually I’m laying down doing a 20 minute yoga session in my hotel room next door. The beauty of modern communications is that I can hear what’s going on and if I really need to be contacted, I can be.

Floor: Ideally you’ll have some people to share the booth duty with, which should be good. Sometimes you’ll have booth duty and then also one of your colleagues is speaking, and so you can do a thing where the person who is a speaker can maybe say that they can do prolonged Q and A at the booth, so you’ll have a little bit of time to do other stuff while they take the booth. So hopefully, it’s something that you can share because otherwise it’s a long time to stand up straight, which is also not great. Yeah, a lot of time to be very social and that’s actual work.

Mark: If you are just getting into DevRel for the first time, or maybe you’ve been in it for ages and you haven’t done this, please come and talk to the organiser. If you are at an event that I’m running, I want you to come and say hello. I want you to come and tell us what you think, but also I want you to immerse yourself in the experience and give full feedback as well, because that’s the only way that organisers get to understand how they can improve. But also it’s great relationship building, and who knows what we’re all going to be in the future. I know as somebody who runs around sometimes looking like a bit of a headless chicken at an event, I don’t always stop to talk to everybody that I would like to talk to, but if they approach me, I’ll just drop everything and make sure that I’ve got time.

Floor: I think we’re creating events together – the organisers, the speakers, the attendees and so. Figure out if you’re going to an event anyway and you’re speaking there, make sure that you attend talks, especially when those talks are on a similar subject as your talk, so you’re not doing a lot of repeating. Make sure that you can reference other talks that are on a similar topic and sort of uplift your fellow speakers that way. Figure out if you can do anything to volunteer at the event. Maybe they need a room host, because otherwise they’ll have organisers do the MCing and not all of the organisers actually really enjoy doing that, so maybe that’s something you can do. Uplift your fellow speakers by tweeting or whatever we do nowadays about their talks, that’s a good way. I try to fully immerse myself in whatever conference I go to because I know I would appreciate it if my speakers did that. If there is a photo booth, I will definitely go to the photo booth and take people with me. If there’s a raffle, I will participate in a raffle. Whatever you organise, I will just participate in it, because I know that I would appreciate it if it were the other way around.

Matthew: Cool. Well, I think we need a second edition where we get into some of the practicalities, particularly for newer people to DevRel. I remember standing in a conference booth in Zurich with all of my stuff stuck in customs and post-it notes behind me trying to recreate the booth that I should have had. There are lots of lessons that people who’ve done it before all know now and we just don’t really have a guidebook on how to go and be at a conference as a sponsor for the first time. Any closing thoughts?

Mark: Be good. Have fun. Enjoy the conference season.

Floor: Wow. Hydrate.

Erin: Don’t be a stranger. Like we’re all living in this world together. And guess what, if you think that you’re being awkward or weird, we all probably feel like we’re awkward and weird, or maybe that’s just me and I’m reflecting on it. That’s part of it. And you’re not alone in feeling awkward and weird no matter where you’re at in your journey.

Kevin: I will continue to beat the drum of remember why you’re there and still get your work done. Still prove your value in your events. There are going to be some that don’t meet the value that you require, but you need a decent average in order to continue to have an event program in your DevRel team. That doesn’t mean that’s all you do. You are not a robot designed just to meet your goal. And remember that we have techniques and ways of achieving goals, which are still authentic to us and authentic to our discipline. But you have a goal and you must meet the goal, otherwise you will not get to do events for very long.

Matthew: Well, thank you everyone. Where can we find each of you? Mark, where can people find DevOps UK?

Mark: At Devoxxuk on Twitter, on LinkedIn, on Facebook. Just go to the website devoxx.co.uk and the coordinates are there. D E V O X X

Matthew: Erin?

Erin: Yeah, you can find me personally – Erin Mikail across all the platforms. Or at erinmikailstaples.com, all the stuff on YouTube @erin.tube or check out what I’m up to at Label Studio at labelstud.io, or our latest integrations library by labelstudio/integrations or come hang out with us at DevRel(ish) on YouTube.

Kevin: Floor?

Floor: I guess mostly on Mastodon these days as Floor D, or Floor Drees on other platforms. I’m the only person with that name, so it should be easy to find me. Then for DevOps days, it’s DevOpsdays.org/events. There are so many events planned for this year, so please find one that is close to your physical location and join one of those events because they’re really unique in their format.

Matthew: And Kevin?

Kevin: You can find me personally at lws.io, which links out to all of my social links. You can find more about Directus at directus.io, or my own event series about core skills at yougotthis.io. And Matthew?

Matthew: Well, thank you for asking. I’d like to direct you to developerrelations.com where we have all sorts of content for people in DevRel and DevRelCon London is taking place September 7th and 8th at Code Node. CFP is open. I would like to say that if you are looking for other DevRel people to collaborate with, it’s a really good place to be. But yeah, thank you everyone for taking part and see you on the Internet, and hopefully in real life at some point as well.